TOUGH AT THE TOP

It already looks as if Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City are starting to peel away from the rest of the npower Championship with just 13 games played.

The pair are level on 29 points in first and second, six ahead of their nearest challengers, with Cardiff having closed in on QPR with that 4-0 win at Leeds United on Monday night.

Leaders QPR remain unbeaten this season but have drawn four of their last five ahead of Saturday's visit of Burnley to Loftus Road.

And defender Matt Connolly told QPR Player: "We just need to win our games, that's the most important thing. Cardiff are playing fantastic at the moment and it (the win at Leeds) was a good result but we know we have to win our games and as long as we do that we'll be top of the League."

Burnley started the season fairly well with some high expectation levels and currently sit seventh in the table.

They aren't losing many games but did take a 4-0 beating at home to Reading in their last Championship match before following that up with a draining extra-time defeat at Aston Villa in the Carling Cup on Wednesday.

And boss Brian Laws told www.burnleyfootballclub.com: "We will be ready for the game and there's no question we will put in a performance at QPR. It's the biggest test so far because they are the league leaders."

Cardiff, last season's beaten Play-Off finalists, are in tremendous form with four straight wins and haven't lost since mid-September.

Dave Jones's men have regrouped well after their Wembley heartbreak and now face a home game against Norwich City as they look to build on that win at Leeds on Monday.

Another victory would keep the pressure right on QPR and even at this stage of the season it would further strengthen their position in the top two.

Norwich came up as League 1 champions last season and have made an excellent start to their campaign, currently sitting fourth in the table.

They haven't even conceded a goal on the road since September 14th and kept QPR to a goalless draw at Loftus Road in their last away match.

Now they travel to Cardiff looking to maintain their position among the early front-runners.

Manager Paul Lambert told www.canaries.co.uk: "On any given day you can beat anybody. It's a really tough, tough game but it is one we are looking forward to and one we will be trying to go and win."

BIG DAY FOR BOSSES

A new era at the Riverside Stadium gets underway on Saturday as Tony Mowbray takes charge of his first game as Middlesbrough Manager.

A legend there as a player, Mowbray was appointed in the week and knows he faces a big task to get the highly-fancied Boro away from third-bottom in the table and towards promotion contention.

He starts at home to Bristol City, themselves bottom, and Mowbray wants the home fans to have pride in their team.

He told www.mfc.co.uk: "We need to try and get this stadium bouncing again, full of people who wear red scarves and are proud to wear them and who, win, lose or draw are Boro people who will stick with their team. The supporters want to see their team winning and want to get out of their seats and enjoy their football."

Bristol City have suffered a difficult opening to their season but after a run of five defeats in six they have shown improvements in their last two fixtures, a 1-0 win over Reading and 1-1 draw with QPR, both at Ashton Gate.

And Manager Keith Millen told www.bcfc.co.uk: "There will be a lot of expectation on Middlesbrough, of course. They have just appointed a new Manager in Tony Mowbray and we expect the crowd will be very excited because of that. The players will probably respond too."

It's also a big day at the Walkers Stadium as the two teams immediately outside the relegation zone - Leicester City and Preston North End - go head to head.

Leicester, now under former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, have registered a win, a draw and a defeat since the Swede took over, as well as exiting the Carling Cup in midweek.

They reached last season's Play-Offs but have had a difficult start to the season and Paulo Sousa didn't last long in charge before being replaced by Eriksson.

He told www.lcfc.com: "It is an extremely important game for us and for Preston. It will be a battle, a difficult game between two teams who are going to do everything to get a result. We need a good result as we come into it after two bad results."

Preston are 20th but have won three of their last six, this after a run of four straight defeats in August and September.

Victory over Crystal Palace in their last match sends them to the Walkers Stadium in a positive frame of mind.

Skipper Callum Davidson says consistency is the key for his team, telling www.pnefc.net: "I think we are a little hit or miss at the moment and it is consistency what we really want at the moment. If we were a little more consistent then we would definitely be further up the league. It is something that I would like us to be."

ON THE BOX

There's Yorkshire pride at stake in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday evening with Barnsley taking on Hull City.

The hosts are smarting after 3-0 defeats in their last two games but being back at Oakwell is always a positive for Barnsley and they have only lost once in front of their own fans this season - to Cardiff City on October 2.

But after just one win in their last seven Championship games, Barnsley have to bounce back quickly according to Manager Mark Robins.

He told www.barnsleyfc.co.uk: "This is a big game now in front of the TV cameras. We know a lot of people will be tuned in. We have the character in our squad to bounce back and it is time to show everybody that."

Hull, relegated from the Premier League last season, have also won just once in their last seven outings.

Defeats in their last two at the KC Stadium mean a road trip from East Yorkshire to South will bring them some respite from their troubles at home.

Manager Nigel Pearson told Tigers Player: "It's about the response on Saturday. I think the two home games were disappointing, although against Portsmouth there were a lot more positives but ultimately there were no points, which puts us under pressure. It's about getting a response now against Barnsley on Saturday."

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